Newsletter of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia



December 1988










A.C.T. Electoral Act Establishes d'Hondt


The Senate, on 24th November finally passed this Bill. The Democrats, with Senators Jenkins and Macklin ably leading, moved many commendable amendments including Robson rotation regardless of the counting system, substitution of quota-preferential for d'Hondt and, after both of these were unsupported by the unhelpful Opposition, a proposal for A.C.T. electors to choose their electoral system by referendum. A division on the latter failed to win other than Democrat support. Write to the PRSA President for a post-free copy of the debate.

The Government's electoral crudity may yet rebound on it. Because of d'Hondt's harsh discrimination against voters for other than large parties the ACT Democrats are seeing a need to campaign as part of a coalition of small parties. The Democrats, the Rainbow Alliance and other groups may pool their candidates under the pointed names "The Fair Elections Coalition", and hope to gain extra votes on the issue of electoral injustice.

A novel feature of their approach would be to not use the option of a Group Voting Ticket box "above the line" but have their team members listed "below the line" only, and let their voters decide the order and proportions in which coalition members are elected. Being forced into coalition, their column "below the line" might number 20, versus 11 for each of the major parties. Their coalition's resulting distinctive format on the ballot-paper should draw some attention to what is going on - such measures have never been needed before in any of Australia's quota-preferential elections.

Copies* from The Canberra Times, of a cartoon of theirs and a recent article by the PRSA President are attached.


Door Still Just Open in Victoria


The Deputy Leader of the Government in the Upper House, Hon. David White MLC, told the Victorian Branch's AGM in September that the Government would present their PR Bill to the Upper House again if re-elected, and would claim a fresh electoral mandate for it.  The Government was re-elected, with a reduced majority, but the Opposition majority in the Upper House increased. The Government intends to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee for report, and the Victorian Branch of the PRSA hopes to give evidence to it. 

The Branch's AGM was pleased, after it had impressed on Mr White the important advantages Hare-Clark has over the approach taken in the Victorian Bill, that he made a most enlightened undertaking to visit Tasmania to study their electoral system before the final form of the new Bill was determined.


Prospect of a Tasmanian Branch

Tasmania's world-beating Hare-Clark PR system has left that State with less public dissatisfaction on electoral matters than our other States. Nevertheless, Tasmanians are more conscious than mainlanders of the Senate system's stage-managed ballot-paper order.  They do have to vote for the Federal Lower House, many municipal elections in malapportioned wards, and their own badly malapportioned Upper House, which has always been able to unilaterally veto any reform of it. There is also the need to "preserve, protect and defend" the Hare-Clark system. These considerations have led to the formation of a group that intends to apply to join the PRSA. The necessary ballot of PRSA members to admit them could take place next March. 

Some Hobart members of the group recently paid for restoration work on the grave, in the Old Queenborough Cemetery, of Andrew Inglis Clark, 1848-1907, the Tasmanian Attorney-General that pioneered the Hare-Clark PR electoral system. He was also one of the 4-member 1891 Constitutional Convention Committee that produced the official first draft of "A Bill to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia".  Clark was one of the 200 Australians in the Bicentennial Authority's book, "People Who Made Australia Great", although it failed to mention the one thing by which his name lives on: Hare-Clark.


Losing; Failing to Convert; & the Holding of Gains


State School Teachers' Union of WA    Despite assiduous explanatory work by Norm Cox, Secretary of our WA Branch (the Electoral Reform Society of Western Australia), a move from within the State School Teachers' Union regrettably succeeded in replacing their quota-preferential electoral system with a majority-only system. 

NRMA - NSW    Annual elections for the National Roads & Motorists Association cover 1.7 million members, being the next largest election to parliamentary elections in NSW.  A first-past-the-post block voting system to elect one third of the 16 councillors has been used since the early 1900s.  Plumping is not accepted, so with 5 to be elected, it is possible, if there were only 6 candidates, for one candidate with over 80 per cent of first preference support not to be elected, while 5 other candidates with only 5 per cent first preference support each would all be elected! 

That voting method was abandoned for Senate elections in 1919, owing to public opposition after consistently one-sided results. 

Members of the NSW Branch of the PR Society proposed 6 special motions to amend the NRMA Articles to use the quota-preferential method of PR voting, based on the Society's Proportional Representation Manual. At the NMRMA Annual General Meeting the motions, proposed by PRSA NSW Branch President John Webber and Treasurer John Alexander, were defeated after about two hours of debate, with strong support for them by many new candidates and from the meeting. 

John Webber said the result was expected, as the NRMA Journal had a long statement opposing all the motions, despite its policy of denying members opportunity to debate issues such as electoral reform in its pages. Recent changes in the NRMA Articles have required that the costs of proposing future changes to the Articles be paid by the members proposing them - such costs would be at least $10,000. 

The motions let NRMA members know some of the inadequacies of block voting and the virtues of PR. There are now model amendments that can be fought for again.

Institute of Actuaries Ltd.   A brighter note was sounded by a routine request for purchase of PR counting sheets by this Institute, which has used PR to elect its Board since 1963.  This Sydney-based national organization of obviously numerate professionals has found PR to be appropriate and very satisfactory. 




© 1988 Proportional Representation Society of Australia


National President: Geoffrey Goode  18 Anita Street BEAUMARIS VIC 3193

National Secretary: John Alexander  5 Bray Street MOSMAN NSW 2088

Telephone: (03) 589 1802; (02) 960 2193

Printed by PRINT MINT  45 Grenfell Street ADELAIDE SA 5000


The Canberra Times

 Page 9

22nd November 1988

An impeccable electoral model


A MAJOR feature of the debate over the best electoral system for the People's House in a self-governing ACT has been the Government's failure to acknowledge the proven record of the proportional representation system used to elect Tasmania's governing lower House. 

Known as Hare-Clark, it is Australia's longest-continuing system for parliamentary elections. Since 1907 it has guaranteed representation to nearly 90 per cent of Tasmania's voters. 

It is well-established as an impeccable model of electoral fairness, and is the world's best example of quota-preferential proportional representation.  In Tasmania it is supported by all parties as well as leading independents. 

Electoral reformers see quota-preferential proportional representation as far preferable to sub-proportional procedures such as continental Europe's party lists or the single non-transferable vote used in multi-member districts for Japan's lower House. 

The earliest reform of single-member electorate systems was the party list approach. Electors can vote for parties or isolated independents by a single cross. The resulting crude approximation between seats and votes is better than the single member electorate outcome.  Such systems are called proportional, but they do not reflect votes, and conserve their value carefully, as quota-preferential systems do. Modifications (the latest being 'consolidated d'Hondt') abound, but do not remedy the fundamental "cookery book" weaknesses of such systems. 

Whereas party list systems quickly became entrenched in continental Europe - the political parties saw to that - the alternative approach of quota-preferential proportional representation was preferred in Britain.  It is used for the Irish lower House, and is the leading contender for electoral reform of the House of Commons. 

All voters in Senate elections use quota-preferential proportional representation.  The voter can show preferences for each and every candidate if desired, and can be sure that the first preference will count toward the election of that candidate in full, or if that candidate ultimately has insufficient support, that it will not be wasted but will, in the voter's order of preference, be transferred to the first available candidate that can be elected using it. If a candidate receives more first preference votes than are needed for election, that candidate's surplus votes are not wasted, but count towards the election of a further candidate, as shown by the voter's preferences. 

Unlike Hare-Clark, Senate proportional representation has been overlaid with unnecessary restrictions, to benefit party machines at the expense of voters. Tasmanian state candidates have never been allowed to to choose the order in which they appear in a party column. A Tasmanian Assembly vote has always been formal if it simply shows the same number of preferences as there are vacancies to be filled - they have never imposed the Senate restriction that 90 per cent of preferences be marked. 

In reality it is these restrictions, not the quota-preferential system itself, that annoy some major party politicians. They would be wiser to expunge the restrictive overlay rather than the underlying system. 

When both major parties' voters are orchestrated so that nearly all their first preference votes are concentrated on the candidate at the top of the party column, their last candidates to receive substantial flow-on from the top place-holder's surplus often stand lower in the count than a modestly-scoring minor party or independent candidate. Those major party candidates are then excluded and, if their votes or preferences are marked to other candidates before major-party candidates, the candidate who has not been nominated by a major party can be elected. 

diagram of preference flows

Tasmania's system has discouraged party machines from pursuing stage-managed orders of election for their candidates - their How to Vote cards have never shown order of voting, but instead urge electors to vote for the party candidates in their order of choice. The system protects the major parties from their self-damaging obsession with being the dominating factor in the order of election of their candidates, and has allowed the voters, rather than the party machines, to make the real decision on the order and certainty of election of candidates. 

The 'consolidated d'Hondt' system being foisted on the ACT discriminates blatantly against independent candidates or small parties by excluding them from the count if they do not reach a quota as first preferences, ie they are not allowed to interchange preferences to build up a quota for one of them, but their votes are arbitrarily directed to one of their much lower preferences Just as outrageous is the proposal that surplus votes received by an independent or a party are to be disregarded. All this legislatively-prescribed disregarding of votes ran readily enable a minority of actual votes to become a 'majority' of "approved" votes ie those votes not disregarded.  Such a "majority" then elects a real majority of Assembly members. 

If the proven successes of the Tasmanian system are to be ignored, the very least the Senate can do for ACT democracy is to amend the ACT Electoral Bill to require the use of Senate-style quota-preferential voting, which does allow full and free transfer of each voter's preferences, but to forgo that system's accreted restrictions. 

*Geoffrey Goode is president of the Proportional Representation Society of Australia




                                  Clyde Holding MHR, ALP Minister for